Harvard Medical School Professor Wins Science Award

Harvard Medical School Professor George M. Church was named the recipient of The Franklin Institute’s 2011 Bower Award and Prize for Achievement in Science yesterday for his contributions to genomic science, according to a press release.

“[Church was] fundamental in developing novel DNA sequencing technologies that supported the sequencing of the Human Genome,” said The Franklin Institute’s Vice President of Science and Innovation Frederic Bertley, also noting Church’s contributions to the field of synthetic biology in the form of creating organisms with artificial DNA.

As a Harvard graduate student, Church began working with multiplex sequencing, a process that speeds up the analysis of DNA. In 1995, Church founded the Personal Genome Project, which urges volunteers to donate blood samples for genomic sequencing. Church said he hopes that this database will provide information about personal risk of disease, physical traits, and ancestry to the general public.

“The PGP is an effort to get together an integrated database about everything you might want to know about a person,” he said.

Bertley emphasized the importance of personal genomic information in the treatment of diseases.

“Right now, we haven’t yet maximized the capacity to make personalized medicine a reality,” he said. “But we’ll get to that point through George Church and other scientists pushing the frontiers of genomics forward.”

Bertley added that he thought Church could “absolutely” be a candidate for a Nobel Prize. One hundred fifteen recipients of the Franklin Awards have won Nobels.

Church is one of seven recipients of The Franklin Institute’s 2011 award program, which originated in 1824 and is one of the oldest comprehensive science award programs in the country. The $250,000 Bower Award and Prize for Scientific Achievement was added to the set of awards in 1988 and focuses on a different field of science each year. This year’s theme is genomics, Bertley said.

Church said he plans to continue his research in genomics.

“We’re trying to continue to bring down the price of reading and writing genomes, and we just got a grant from the NIH specifically to let us reprogram human cells both genetically and epigenetically,” he said.

The Franklin Institute awards ceremony will take place on April 28, 2011.

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